Matthew/Scream Bloody Murder is a real nasty piece of 70s exploitation cinema that is somehow made more effective by its shaky acting and grimy cinematography. While featuring a killer with psychosexual and oedipal issues is hardly original - there are more than a few echoes of Psycho, as well as later films like Maniac and Pieces - the film's complete disinterest in what led to this development actually feels rather refreshing compared to modern horror films which seem fixated on a killer's development. Matthew - the young murderer in this film who sports a hook for a hand after a bizarre tractor accident - opens the film by murdering his father, and while he's shown to be in a state of arrested development (with sex almost literally being used as a weapon against him) how he became this way is never really revealed. Director Marc B. Ray (whose only other notable credit is writing Stepfather III) may mostly be interested in piling on the kills, but the choice to focus most of the running time on Matthew leads to a surprising amount of insight regarding his delusional mind.
Matthew's murderous streak begins very early. In fact, the film memorably begins with the young Matthew sitting in a field while his father works on a tractor nearby. When dad starts making some repairs to the front of the vehicle, Matthew hops on and runs over dear old dad before somehow managing to mangle his own hand after jumping off. As often happens after a disturbing event such as this, Matthew is hauled off to the nuthouse for a decade and given a neat hook for a hand. Silver lining, I suppose.
Matthew - for some odd reason - gets released from the mental institution only to find that his mother has re-married, and BOY does this make him angry. After killing his new moustachioed dad with an axe, Matt accidentally strangles his mom to death - a difficult proposition when one of your hands is a metal claw - before hitching a ride out of the city with a newly married couple. When the group decides to relax next to a pond, Matthew starts having a teensy bit of a psychotic breakdown, killing the husband before drowning the wife. You have to respect his ability to diversify in regards to weapons considering he has a perfectly lethal stabbing and clawing device attached to his body.
After hitching another ride, Matt ends up meeting and quickly obsessing over a prostitute named Vera (whom he creepily calls Daisy). It's here where the film gets interesting, as the child-like Matthew comes up with a detailed lie about his affluence in order to try and convince Vera to stop sleeping with dudes for money, and then starts murdering folks in order to make this fantasy come to life. I found this section to actually be rather fascinating as we're presented with someone with absolutely no moral compass, so when he's trying to create his own reality he simply takes the most direct route. He says he lives in a mansion, so he finds one that is most appropriate, slaughters the maid and old woman who live there (as well as her dog) and then stuffs them in a closet. Vera likes to paint? Time to mug some people for money to buy groceries and art supplies.
Vera doesn't respond well to being a kept woman, so soon Matthew is tying her to the bed and force feeding her meals ("Eat, or i'll cut your tongue out of your mouth"). After a few escape attempts - including a notable close call where a suspicious doctor comes upon the corpse of the house-owner - Vera eventually fakes a bit of Stockholm syndrome in order to have Matthew let her take a shower, and once unclothed she quickly discovers how Matthew wilts at the hint of sexuality. Seeing a rapid shift in terms of power, Vera almost escapes before Matthew finally gets to use his claw as a weapon - gouging her throat before running off wildly into a church, surrounded by the ghostly visions of the people he murdered. Plagued by guilt, he stabs himself in the stomach and - in one of the nicer shots in the film - the camera slowly tracks back between the pews before the (almost unreadable) credits roll.
I suppose it's a little unfair to compare Matthew to the other films in the Bloody Nightmares collection as - uniquely - it seems to have had an actual budget, was shot on 35mm and even played theatrically in the early 70s. While the production quality is rough, some of the acting is decent, and while director Marc B. Ray shoots the whole thing like a TV movie, he also manages to throw in a few inspired moments - particularly when Matthew talks his way into the mansion and eventually butchers the (surprisingly ornery) maid. There's some decent tension, and even a touch of humor when Matthew is nearly overpowered by the elderly homeowner. He didn't need to kill the dog, though. C'mon!
Still, this is mostly a humorless affair, and it's a relief once Vera enters the picture and we're finally given someone to root for. Leigh Mitchell plays Vera as confident and independent, and unapologetic about her choice of career which makes her rightfully resistant when Matthew tries to "save" her from it. Mitchell is really the MVP here, as while Fred Holbert is giving his all as Matthew, and really does try to be channeling a level of adolescent naivety, he's just too stiff in the role. Look fast for a young Angus Scrimm as the doctor who doesn't believe Matthew's lies for a moment.
While hardly drenched with gore, and some scenes of violence feel a bit truncated (particularly when Matthew axes his mother's new beau), there's still quite a variety of weapons being used in nasty ways and the film doesn't back down from blood-letting. While we eventually get to see some claw-fu, the film never really does much interesting with Matthew's disfigurement, outside of the possibility that it just adds to his own sexual frustrations. While the editing isn't notable, the IMDB lists the editor Alex Funke as having gone on to win a couple of Oscars for visual effects (including working on The Lord of the Rings and Total Recall), which I can only hope is true.
I do want to mention the soundtrack - credited to Rockwell (though i'm going to suggest it's not the 80s R&B performer who did "Somebody's Watching Me") - which mixes percussive HG Lewis-style ambient music with some super cheesy 70s violins and horns. It's used rather sparsely, and sometimes even effectively, but really feels all over the place.
Matthew/Scream Bloody Murder is presented in a pitiful full-frame transfer that looks like it was pulled out of a dumpster. There's plenty of grain and the image is so soft that many details are impossible to make out, not that there's a lot in the background worth seeing. Sound is a bit better, with the dialogue coming out generally clear, though from the consistent sound-sync issues I would guess that a lot of a dialogue was post-synced. As mentioned, there seems to be some minor edits during a few of the murders, though considering that this film has apparently slipped into the public domain, I would be surprised is a more complete version is currently available.
This is part of the Bloody Nightmares collection, so you know what that means. No special features, not even chapter stops. Oh well.
While derivative of a number of better horror films, Matthew has enough moments of inspired nastiness to be worthwhile to fans of grimy 70s horror. I can't imagine the sense of changing a great title like Scream Bloody Murder to something as innocuous as Matthew (maybe they were trying to capitalize on the post-Exorcist demon-child boom), but a bland title doesn't take away from the near constant stream of murders which lead up to the film's much more interesting second half, and at less than 90 minutes it manages not to wear out its welcome. Decent trash for those who like that sort of thing.